I am currently a consultant working for a software development company who is building an application for their client. The dev company feels that every aspect of the ui should be customize-able, right down to the font. So for example, if the customer using the application is Porsche, they would have the ability to use their own proprietary font. This is a very VERY data-centric app, rows and columns of data.

While I think I have got them into some safe defaults for color configuration to provide a branded, yet usable experience, I can not seem to get over the font "hump". no matter what path I take, they feel the client should be able to configure the font, across the board, based on that company branding guidelines. I've gone as far as gone to these companies websites and shown that the "readable" test on those sites are not the brands font, but a common readable font.

Am I wrong here? Should the end client be able to configure the application down to the font, possibly making the application unusable for their end-user? Or should we, as the software development company be providing "safe defaults" and prevent them from destroying the integrity of the app?

Can anyone site resources, studies, provide opinion? I am either wrong in my fight for being a responsible software company and maintaining some sort of standard, or I am failing my client miserably in explaining why we need to save the end client from themselves.

Sorry for the long question... Thank you in advance for any insights provided.. I could really use some cold hard facts!

  • "So for example, if the customer using the application is Porsche, they would have the ability to use their own proprietary font" I think it is crucial to understand WHY they want this. They probably see this as a solution for a problem but maybe there are better solutions than this. I can image that they want their software to have a look and feel specific for the customer so that it seems it was made especially for them. Maybe there are better solutions to achieve this goal. Color schemes, customer's logo,... Could you upload a mockup? Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 6:31
  • I don't understand why you are at odds. If something has a default value, especially a safe default value, that indicates a configurable thing to me... So why is having configurable fonts at odds with having safe defaults? Or are you opposing their configurability? If so, ask yourself why you think a company should not be able to change the font as they like? If you come up with stuff like: but they may choose something that is not readable: ask yourself whether you are the only one that could choose a readable font. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 6:40

3 Answers 3


As of now you and the dev company are at loggerheads over an abstract question.

The most useful answer will be informed by testing on users, not just the better theory.

Take the battle of wills out of the question be re-framing it as: ought the app font be fixed? (Or, ought the app font vary?)

With simple A/B testing of pairs of fonts you can discover: more and less usable fonts how the app's font varying impacts users

From there, reconvene to decide first if the app will have a fixed font, second, if not what set of fonts the app will offer users.

Questions of effectiveness of visual branding are knotty, even unknowable. Restrict your definition of branding goals to one that can be quantitatively supported. So, instead of "good/bad for the brand" ask, "helps/harms the user's effective accomplishment of their app goal".

Todd is quite right to emphasize that unreadable data would render the app effectively broken.


Being able to make sense of data, especially when there's a lot of it, depends first on being able to read it properly. Typography and other information design practices are what make that possible, and there's a strong case for not inviting end users who likely aren't versed in design to change it: you don't want people customizing themselves into erroneous or incomplete displays

Where you should try to expand on the safe defaults you can provide is in the area of accessibility, so it falls on you to choose some settings that accommodate people using assistive devices or with diminished vision.

So it's not a matter of one-size-fits-all when it comes to safe defaults, and that might be what is holding up the discussion with your client. Instead it's a matter of well-informed decisions about making data readable, and not troubling the end user to figure out how to make that happen. That's our job.


It sounds like you understand the risks involved with adding the feature. I'd tell it to your client straight and keep to your guns.

You're there to consult, and you advise against it because of the implications of adding the feature. I see no wrong in it.

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